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You are here: Home Winter 2008 Patent Watch: Stem Cell Breakthoughs Open New Medical Frontiers

Patent Watch: Stem Cell Breakthoughs Open New Medical Frontiers


Two years ago, Mariusz Ratajczak published a study in the journal Leukemia, that verified his discovery of cells in the adult body that seemed to behave like embryonic stem cells.

Now, that discovery is being commercialized so that those lab findings can more quickly be translated into treatments for patients with many kinds of diseases, which could include heart disease, stroke, diabetes, burns, spinal cord injury, Parkinson's, Alzheimer's and arthritis.

ratajczaklarge profile image Drawn from adult bone marrow, the so-called "very small embryonic-like" (VSEL) stem cells have the same structure and protein markers as embryonic stem cells. They also mimic the ability of embryonic stem cells to multiply and develop into other kinds of cells.

Mariusz Ratajczak, director of the developmental biology program and holder of the Henry and Stella Hoenig Endowed Chair at UofL, led a research team that discovered the VSEL technology. The technology has been hailed as having the potential to change the face of stem-cell research.

"We are very excited about the tremendous implications of this discovery," Ratajczak said. "Our preliminary success in growing and differentiating these cells is very encouraging."

If the process proves to be practical to duplicate on a large scale, it could reduce the need for embryonic stem cells in research—a point that has been debated nationally in the political sphere in recent years. It could also eliminate rejection problems associated with using stem cells from an outside donor.

Ratajczak's team has grown VSEL cells in a lab and proven that they can multiply into clusters of cells that can be directed to become specialized cells found in different types of tissue, including heart, nerve, skin, muscle, pancreas and bone marrow.

That process has been replicated at more than five other laboratories.

That means the technology may provide a renewable source of replacement cells and tissues in disease treatment.

The partnership to market the VSEL discoveries involves the UofL Research Foundation and NeoStem Inc., a New York City-based adult stem cell company.

UofL's intellectual property policy stipulates that the university and the inventors share in the licensing proceeds of technologies and treatments marketed by the company.

Both Manuel Martinez-Maldonado, executive vice president for research at UofL, as well as UofL's President, James Ramsey, have hailed the findings and the resulting partnership. "Dr. Ratajczak's work and this partnership with NeoStem are another great example of the return on Kentucky's investment in Bucks for Brains, both in terms of business creation and potential cures," said UofL President James Ramsey.

In recognition of the discovery, Ratajczak recently received the top medical prize from his native country, Poland, for his discovery. It was given by the Foundation for Polish Science. The initial paper announcing the study also was given an editor's choice award by the editorial staff of Nature Publishing Group.

This story was compiled from articles written by UofL staff writer Ellen de Graffenreid.

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